Editorial: Russia rattling some sabresSave
As if to underline the heightened tension between Russia and the Western powers at present, Russia sent its sole aircraft carrier and an accompanying fleet through the English Channel on Sunday, probably on its way to deliver more fighter bombers to Syria for a more attacks on Aleppo. Nato called the fleet Russia's largest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War.
This month has brought a deepening divergence between the United States and Russia after the US suspended their talks on Syria over Russia's continued bombing of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. President Putin responded by withdrawing from an agreement for each side to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium used in nuclear weapons.
Russia's active defence of Syria's Assad regime and America's support for the rebels becomes ever more dangerous. If this is not yet causing public alarm in the West, it is a different story in Russia where state television channels have been asking viewers whether they know the location of their nearest bomb shelter.
Last month the country conducted a nationwide civil defence exercise, preparing 40 million people for potential catastrophes including nuclear war, and last week Russia announced it was moving nuclear-capable ballistic missiles into Kaliningrad, its detached territory next to Poland, where they are within reach of Western cities.
All of this is probably mere posturing, mainly in the hope of influencing the US presidential election, now just two weeks away. Vladimir Putin has every reason to prefer the winner to be Donald Trump. Not just because Trump has threatened to weaken Nato unless America's alliance partners shoulder a greater share of their own defence, but also because Hillary Clinton seems likely to adopt a more aggressive policy towards Russia in Syria and elsewhere than Trump or Barrack Obama.
Trump openly admires Putin, if only because he has been more adroit in Syria than the Obama Administration which is trying to fight both the Assad forces and Isis. Putin is supporting Assad against all rebels, including Isis and Trump, if elected, would probably do the same. Isis is the only enemy he sees, Syria's civil war is of no more concern to America, in his view, than instability in any other country.
Trump represents an isolationist foreign policy that would be a gift to Vladimir Putin who has made it his mission to restore Russia's power and importance in the world. It began with the invasion of Crimea and its repossession from Ukraine and continued with the destabilisation of that country after it indicated a wish to join Nato. Clearly Putin regards all parts of the former Soviet Union are rightfully Russia's domain, possibly including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Fortunately for them, they already have Nato's protection but Trump has expressly included them in his conditions for maintaining Nato commitments. The Baltic states must be following this election very nervously.
Putin presides over a lumbering, corrupt economy that has been suffering with oil prices low. He remains highly popular by convincing his people he is making Russia great again. Trump is giving his dangerous encouragement and the rest of the world can only hope it will end with the election.